Monday, July 23, 2007


There's been a show on TV recently that carried this title. It's a bunch of people trying to save the world but every episode comes right up to the point of success but it is snatched away at the last minute. So you have to watch the next show to see what happens except you already know it is never going to really end.

There are some interesting similarities between that series and caregiving and Alzheimer's disease for that matter.

But I've been thinking about heroes lately.

Firefighters are very much respected and appreciated people I think. If a firefighter rescues someone, and that happens frequently, then the rescuer is very often honored and called a hero. And firefighters are different from police because firefighters basically only help you whereas you might get a ticket from police. Firefighters were really seen as heroes after 911 because of their extreme sacrifice. I cannot even imagine entering a burning building. Just amazing bravery.

Police officers, doctors, nurses, emergency medical techs, and just ordinary people often are recognized and honored because of especially courageous and valiant acts of self-sacrificing service.

Military personnel who perform above and beyond what anyone might expect are also acknowledged and honored.

In the military and many other organizations the process has been ritualized. Some would say even trivialized to some extent.

There are also organizations who honor their own members for especially notable achievement. Authors and actors and many others do this.

But I was thinking of caregivers and Alzheimer's patients.

I have met (electronically for the most part) some remarkable people doing absolutely astounding things. Heroic things in every sense. Things that are the epitome of self-sacrifice and dedication and yet performed with utter humility. Things that have been performed over and over for years and decades and lifetimes.

And yet, insofar as I know at least, there is no public recognition. In fact there is precious little private recognition either. Frequently the closest family and friends abandon both caregiver and patient.

I suppose in part this is because we do not really want to think about Alzheimer's disease. It is one of those things that is a little too close for comfort for most of us. So, many times, it is just easier to avoid the subject.

It is natural to think only of the caregiver as being the hero. After all they are the ones more obviously sacrificing themselves for their loved ones.

But I watch my dad's daily struggle with his illness. Sometimes I actually am aware that something has changed with the disease and it has invaded some other aspect of his life. Then I watch in awe when he responds to whatever it is. How does this happen I ask myself? What is the source of this cognition that permits him to do this? How can one lose so much and yet still be able to do other things?

I wonder if I were him whether or not I would just surrender. And yet as I even allow that thought I realize that surrender is just not a part of dad's personality and never was. His generation has been called "the greatest generation" and part of the reason is that so many of them possessed that perseverance trait. I suppose it too will eventually be destroyed by the disease but I know it will not be taken from him easily.

More often than not the caregivers are heroic as well though. They struggle against unyielding and insurmountable diseases. They know the outcome beforehand. It isn't in doubt ever. And yet they, too, persevere.

Oh they give here and there when they must. They are neither stupid people nor are they foolish. Even when they have to place the loved one in a facility then many continue to spend the bulk of their time with their charge. They are there until the end.

Both the loved one and the caregiver are heroes in my book.


~Betsy said...

Your words are so eloquent and you capture the emotion of this disease with dignity and respect. God Bless you and your dad.

Lori1955 said...

Ah yes, but don't forget that one day caregivers and their loved ones will walk together on streets of gold. I can't think of a better reward for what we all do.

nancy said...

wow, your words hit home with me. our lo's with this disease often go unrecognized for their daily struggle to just get through the day, to try to remember who we are, how to walk, talk and do all of the other little things that most of us take for granted.

yes, i agree with you, caregivers deserve some credit but our loved ones are the real heroes.